Paul Jumroon, also known as Veraphon Phatanakitjumroon, 54, of Depoe Bay, Oregon, and a naturalized citizen originally from Thailand, pleaded guilty yesterday in a U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon, to forced labor, visa fraud conspiracy, and filing a false federal income tax return, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams of the District of Oregon, Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon of the FBI in Oregon, and Special Agent in Charge Darrell Waldon of IRS Criminal Investigation’s Seattle Field Office. Jumroon waived indictment by a federal grand jury and pleaded guilty to an information filed by the United States Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division.
According to the defendant’s plea agreement and admissions in court, between 2011 and 2014, the defendant and his associates fraudulently obtained E-2 visas to bring Thai nationals into the United States to provide cheap labor at his restaurants, Curry in a Hurry in Lake Oswego, Oregon and Teriyaki Thai in Ridgefield, Washington. E-2 visas are granted to foreign nationals who invest substantial money in a U.S. business and direct its operations, and to employees who have special qualifications that make their services essential to that business.
Jumroon used the fraudulently obtained visas to entice four forced labor victims to come to the United States by making false promises to them. According to court documents, the first victim arrived in the United States in June 2012, and the second victim arrived in April 2013. Jumroon used inflated travel expenses, debt manipulation, threats of deportation, serious financial and reputational harm, verbal abuse, and control over identification documents, among other means, to compel the victims to work 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week, for minimal pay, until they managed to leave in October 2013 and 2014, respectively.
As part of the defendant’s guilty plea, Jumroon agreed to pay all four victims a combined $131,391.95 in restitution for their unpaid labor in connection with his forced labor scheme.
The defendant further admitted to filing multiple false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, failing to report cash income earned from his restaurants between 2012 and 2015. As part of the plea agreement, Jumroon agreed to pay tax due and owing in the amount of $120,384 to the IRS.
“Combatting human trafficking is a priority for Attorney General Sessions and the Justice Department,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “Securing a guilty plea today is just another example of this commitment and the work of the Civil Rights Division, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, to hold those who choose to exploit vulnerable individuals accountable for their actions.”
“Human trafficking is a degrading crime that undermines our nation’s most basic promise of liberty. This defendant preyed on the hopes of vulnerable workers, using fear to compel them to work long hours for little pay. He turned a promise of employment and a better life into a human tragedy for his own financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams for the District of Oregon. “This case demonstrates our firm commitment to holding traffickers accountable and restoring the rights, freedom and dignity of victims. It should also serve as a reminder that these types of crimes happen all around us and often in plain sight. We encourage all Oregonians to remain watchful for signs of human trafficking and to notify law enforcement immediately when something seems amiss.”
“The American dream is built on the belief that hard work can bring about a better life. For the victims in this case, that dream turned into a nightmare of false promises, forced labor and abuse,” said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “These cases are very difficult to identify and work, so we are thankful the courageous victims in this case were able to reach out for help through trusted community contacts.”
“Forced labor schemes, such as the one employed by Paul Jumroon, are deplorable crimes that have no place in today’s society,” said Darrell Waldon, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation’s Seattle Field Office. “Falsely reporting income and expenses associated with such schemes will continue to be vigorously investigated by IRS-CI Special Agents.”
Jumroon faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for forced labor, five years in prison for visa fraud conspiracy, and three years in prison for filing a false tax return. His sentencing is scheduled for May 24 before United States District Judge Anna J. Brown.
Attorney General Sessions recently issued a proclamation commemorating January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the Justice Department recently hosted a Human Trafficking Summit where both the Attorney General and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand gave remarks.
The District of Oregon is one of six districts designated through a competitive, nationwide selection process as a Phase II Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam), through the interagency ACTeam Initiative of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Labor. ACTeams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.
This prosecution is the result of the joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, with assistance from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and Portland Police Bureau. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hannah Horsley and Scott Bradford of the District of Oregon, and Lindsey Roberson of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.